"Services have been suspended, we are all gathering online, and it's not as family-friendly as the in-person gathering." Song, a teacher at Huoshui Sign Language Church in Yantai, Shandong province, couldn't hide their frustration as the congregation talked about how long the online worship would last.
Since early March, there had been confirmed COVID-19 cases in Yantai, Huoshui Church for the deaf has suspended face-to-face worship in response to the epidemic prevention policy.
As a fully hearing-impaired church, the church has put efforts into shepherding the hearing-impaired believers over the years. Both the elderly and the young believers can find their spiritual home in the church.
In order to ensure church ministries during the epidemic, the church has fully refined the online spiritual arrangements. Every morning, believers gather for a 30-minute online devotional; online praise sessions are also held during the week, where deaf believers sing praise to God together in sign language at their own homes.
As for the content of devotional study, "we use 1 Timothy as a devotional sharing every morning to encourage young deaf believers to follow Timothy as an example; during the week, we encourage middle-aged and elderly brothers and sisters to study the Gospel of John, teaching everyone how to love," Song introduced.
Although the pastoral care has not fallen back, like many believers under the epidemic, the long-term online gathering has also made some hearing-impaired believers gradually lose their enthusiasm for worship. "Not as enthusiastic as in-person gatherings! I don't have a good idea at the moment," Song said. "I can only communicate with them individually online and encourage them to study."
In previous years, Easter was one of the church's highlights. The deaf congregation would use their spiritual gifts to prepare for sign language singing and dancing, dramas, and sign language games. This year, in the face of the epidemic that is still raging across the country, "it depends on the situation, if the situation is serious, it will not be held," Song added.
As many senior pastors in China have said, the two years of the epidemic have also been a test, exposing the shortcomings and problems hidden in the church and believers. Song also has a deep understanding of this. "After the pandemic, I found that the problem is that people are weak in life and spiritually, so we need continuous training and learning to improve our spiritual life."
In addition, Song has been paying attention to the training of deaf pastors. In July last year, he organized more than ten deaf pastors from all over the country to come to Yantai to conduct studying and training on spiritual life improvement. "Everyone's feedback is very good, many pastors are very eager and have applied to me to continue the training, when the epidemic subsides, we plan to hold the training again."
- Translated by Leo Liu